The Witch with Eyes of Amber by Clark Ashton Smith

I met a witch with amber eyes

Who slowly sang a scarlet rune,

Shifting to an icy laughter

Like the laughter of the moon.

Red as a wanton’s was her mouth.

And fair the breast she bade me take

With a word that clove and clung

Burning like a furnace-flake.

But from her bright and lifted bosom,

When I touched it with my hand,

Came the many-needled coldness

Of a glacier-taken land.

And, lo! The witch with eyes of amber

Vanished like a blown-out flame,

Leaving but the lichen-eaten

Stone that bore a blotted name.

 

by Clark Ashton Smith

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Роландов рог (Roland’s Horn) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Like a jester complaining of the cruel weight

of his hump – let me tell about my orphaned state.

 

Behind the devil there’s his horde, behind the thief there’s his band,

behind everyone there’s someone to understand

 

and support him – the assurance of a living wall

of thousands just like him should he stumble and fall;

 

the soldier has his comrades, the emperor has his throne,

but the jester has nothing but his hump to call his own.

 

And so: tired of holding to the knowledge that I’m quite

alone and that my destiny is always to fight

 

beneath the jeers of the fool and the philistine’s derision,

abandoned – by the world – with the world – in collision,

 

I blow with all my strength on my horn and send

its cry into the distance in search of a friend.

 

And this fire in my breast assures me I’m not all

alone, but that some Charlemagne will answer my call!

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(March 1921)

translated by Stephen Capus


Fun facts: This poem was a favourite of Varlam Shalamov, according to Irina Sirotinskaya (she was a close friend of his and the holder of his works’ publication rights). It’s very likely he may have referenced this work in his poem Roncesvalles.

Tsvetaeva is referencing the romanticised tale of the historical figure Roland‘s death as retold in the eleventh-century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The Song contains a highly romanticized account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland’s death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne’s court.

And, yes, he is ‘that’ Roland – the one who Stephen King references in his Dark Tower series though it was chiefly inspired by him via the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning.

 

Original Russian cyrillic version:

 

Роландов рог

Как нежный шут о злом своем уродстве,
Я повествую о своем сиротстве…

За князем — род, за серафимом — сонм,
За каждым — тысячи таких, как он,

Чтоб, пошатнувшись,— на живую стену
Упал и знал, что — тысячи на смену!

Солдат — полком, бес — легионом горд.
За вором — сброд, а за шутом — все горб.

Так, наконец, усталая держаться
Сознаньем: перст и назначением: драться,

Под свист глупца и мещанина смех —
Одна из всех — за всех — противу всех! —

Стою и шлю, закаменев от взлету,
Сей громкий зов в небесные пустоты.

И сей пожар в груди тому залог,
Что некий Карл тебя услышит, рог!

 

A recital of the original Russian language version

‘Though we have parted, on my breast’ by Mikhail Lermontov

Though we have parted, on my breast

your likeness as of old I wear.

It brings my spirit joy and rest,

pale phantom of a happier year.

To other passions now I thrill,

yet cannot leave this love of mine.

A cast-down idol – god-like still,

a shrine abandoned, yet a shrine.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1837)

translated by Avril Pyman

Disillusionment by Yevgeny Baratynsky

Don’t tempt me with your tender ruses,

with the return of passion’s blaze:

a disenchanted man refuses

inveiglements of former days!

My faith in faithfulness has faded,

my faith in love has passed its prime;

I won’t indugle another time

in dreams degrading and degraded.

Let blind despair not increase,

the things that were, pray, do not mention,

and, caring friend! allow the patient

to doze in long, untroubled peace.

I sleep, and sweet is relaxation;

let bygone dreams be laid to rest:

you will awaken agitation,

not love, in my tormented breast.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1829)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

The Way Of It by R. S. Thomas

With her fingers she turns paint

into flowers, with her body

flowers into a rememberance

of herself. She is at work

always, mending the garment

of our marriage, foraging

like a bird for something

for us to eat. If there are thorns

in my life, it is she who

will press her breast to them and sing.

 

Her words, when she would scold,

are too sharp. She is busy

after for hours rubbing smiles

into the wounds. I saw her,

when young, and spread the panoply

of my feathers instinctively

to engage her. She was not deceived,

but accepted me as a girl

will under a thin moon

in love’s absence as someone

she could build a home with

for her imagined child.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from  The Way of It (1977)

Song Of The Last Meeting by Anna Akhmatova

My breast grew cold and numb,

But my feet were light.

On to my right hand I fumbled

The glove to my left hand.

 

It seemed that there were many steps

-I knew there were only three.

An autumn whisper between the maples

Kept urging: ‘Die with me.

 

Change has made me weary,

Fate has cheated me of everything.’

I answered: ‘My dear, my dear!

I’ll die with you. I too am suffering.’

 

It was a song of the last meeting.

Only bedroom-candles burnt

When I looked into the dark house,

And they were yellow and indifferent.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911, Tsarskoye Selo)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas